This is the third installment explaining in plain language the promise and pitfalls of the new modern Enlightenment. In this essay the practical exemplification of the power of paradigm begins to illustrate the absurdity of counter-productive man. It is recommended that you read this blog in chronological order.
Once you understand paradigms and what their existence means you are in possession of a primer to deeper understanding. You can begin rustling around in your own ideas. Kicking over the stones of opinion to expose why you think as such. You can use the knowledge of your associations to solve problems perhaps you didn’t even know you had. There are always reasons for behaviours, habits, phobias, prejudices, fears, etc.
Sometimes they are purely chemical, natural responses such as fight or flight, or imbalances of hormones that could exemplify the cause(s). More often these responses are just the result of a self-defeating paradigm but we mustn’t forget that there are always unknowns. Later we will discuss some of the unknowns that are now known but these are the influences that are not paradigms and are therefore, outside our jurisdiction. Even the most aware of us fall prey to the unconscious placement and/or demonstration of counterproductive opinion. Contemplation is the way to catch yourself.
Consider our earlier example of prostitution. Is prostitution right, wrong, just, cruel, immoral or natural? Why do you have that opinion and why do you have any opinion? Does it feel to you that your position is a fair and/or appropriate way to be thinking? Does it make sense, do you have specific experiences, or other reasons to feel the way you do? Are you only having an emotional reaction? What associations are connected to your thoughts about prostitution? Perhaps you have no opinion on prostitution. If you look at it as merely a fact, it simply is. If you have no relationship to it you have no decision to make. Yet person after person will decide that they do have an opinion without the need for one. Most often this unnecessary paradigm comes from our rendition of morality. Some people, lacking in their understanding, vehemently argue points for which they have absolutely no reason to believe. Perhaps ignorance isn’t bliss.When I learned that my understanding of ancient Egyptian monuments could be, at the least, partially incorrect, I went through a variety of emotive thoughts. (Never forget, we are now ultimately open minded, because for us the facts are still in dispute we remain the resigned undecided.) At first I was In awe. Wow, I thought, that changes everything! (At the time, in my naivete, I just believed it.) I didn’t realize it but I had shifted several paradigms at once. Looking back on it now, it seems to me that I could physically feel the change in my mind, perhaps a slight dizziness. The first paradigm shift that I could discern was the obvious one, "there were civilized people on this planet way before I previously knew." As I stated, at the time, I just accepted these theories of ten thousand B.C. to be true. (By the way, it’s likely that the theories are true. If ever I must decide I will favour agreeing with them.) Obviously, this idea of "man" being "civilized" earlier sent a fresh jolt to a lot of my paradigms. Surely it must have touched my ideas about religion, archeology, pre-history, etc.Then there was the second shift, "If they were wrong about the ages of these monuments, what else are they wrong about?" Which of course enters into my trust paradigms and I begin to wonder about my teachers and other groups that up until that moment had been authorities. Then a third shift, "That makes it even less likely for the resources or technology to exist for the construction of these monuments? Or does it?" This one is more the conceptualization of Paradigm without knowing what it was called because it put the onus on me to doubt myself. I had discovered that "facts" could be accepted as such for years, by basically, everyone and then be smashed in one hour long t.v. show. I now knew that I could be duped right along with everyone else. So, how can I say that anything is a fact, anything is known, anything is possible?
Of course, it’s easy to say that understanding is empowerment. Understanding even the simplest subject to it’s fullest extent is not easily achieved. The enlightenment you seek will hide very well and the enlightenment you need will present itself whether or not you want it to. How many of us have said something stupid to someone we love for no good reason? We hit our thumb with the hammer and it’s our wife’s fault for wanting the picture hung? The paradigm you need to work on will rear it’s ugly head and you will react. It’s too late to address it now, just remember to contemplate it later and say, "I’m sorry" to your wife.
Tibetan monks, monks of all sorts spend their lives dedicated to seek out the deep, true, pure understanding that is appropriate for their efforts. An alcoholic may have to hurt himself or the ones he loves before he comes to realize it’s the booze that makes him abusive and/or destructive. It doesn’t matter how understanding is achieved despite how honorable you consider one methodology over another. It would be mere speculation for you to assign importance to someone else’s understanding. A monk may die an old man without being satisfied by his lifelong achievements. An alcoholic may, in one moment of clarity, change his entire life, even deciding to attempt to correct the mistakes in his past, changing the lives of others. So it seems that it is natural for us to be presented with solutions. We get in the way of ourselves and others by expressing opinion. The monk who cannot achieve enlightenment is the monk who doesn’t believe it’s possible for him to. The alcoholic who cannot control his drinking, doesn’t want to.
Short of a lifetime of meditation or life altering emotional instances how can we eke out any palpable self control? How can we recognize the need for change when in the midst of the paradigm that is lacking? How can we have 20/20 hindsight, in the present? As silly as that sounds I think it is the attainable goal of the new modern enlightenment. Hindsight always seems to make so much sense that we wonder, looking back, how we missed the revelation while we were in the thick of it.
That leaves us with a present sight, an Awareness with a capital A. The "Authentic Self" used like a separate entity, you looking at yourself. Maximum awareness, purposeful contemplation, flexible paradigms while the calling cards of existentialism are not limited to that somewhat misunderstood disposition. Existentialism emphasizes the individual as a free and responsible agent as existence itself is all that is "known." A philosophy that I think sounds good on paper, and to a certain degree do subscribe to but is not without it’s pitfalls. Unfortunately over the course of the years since the French revolution, the common opinion of existentialism has gone from "seeing things as they are rather than as they should be," to pure nihilism. Nihilism or "nothingism" expounds that existence is meaningless, substance-less, senseless and useless. This misconception was drawn out of the interpretation of existentialists as athiests, which many of the first were. Nevertheless, this Existentialism is not Nihilism, it is just a murky comfort zone.
Today, it may prove to provide the key to quelling the "unbearable angst" of the modern, quasi-existentialist existence. It, having gone from, "God is great" to "God is dead" to "God never was" to "God may be and I’m okay with not knowing." Also, and we will discuss this further, the people who desire control over you don’t want you to be a free and responsible agent. They may even argue that it’s impossible to be both simultaneously. If you are free, it is understood that you are accountable, but to whom and by what standard? You can have faith, as you are a free agent but how, if you don’t attach yourself to some sort of standard of measurement, (morality,) will you know if you’re being responsible? If you’re being held responsible how are you free? It’s easy to see where the paradox lies but it gets even worse.
Existentialism is too convenient. You have the beauty of freedom and the safety of responsibility (provided it’s measure is somehow qualified and quantified.) However, it’s a sort of a lazy temperament, literally hopeless. You just let everything slide by, not that you’re incapable of highs or lows, but that you are accepting of them regardless of merit. I say, keep the calm, analytical nature of the spirit of existentialism and dismiss the lack of imagination expressed as being a responsible agent of change. Inspiration comes from without. There are too many unknowns for classic existentialism to be useful without due diligence. We still need to separate existentialism from humanism further. Those unknowns, the ideas we are unable to yet explain, keep getting in the way. Humanists claim total responsibility. They say, ‘There is an explanation for everything. Anything that is beyond our explanation is either discoverable or it doesn’t exist.’ Our new Existentialism needs to loosen philosophy to the acceptance of the existence and influence of the unknowable. It needs to also develop a direction, a goal conducive to that of our species. Namely, the expected continuation of said species.
Furthermore, as we begin to understand these concepts better, we’ll see that true freedom is the default position, it can’t be given or taken. We are all born free in terms of what we can think. True responsibility is to accept that freedom and use it to your utmost, despite the absurd influence of the world.
‘Memory’, ‘experience’, and trust in ‘lessons learned’ are the building blocks of paradigms but language is the most powerful trap that controls them. We think in terms for ideas. They don’t have to be words. Symbols and signs for instance, are equally powerful. They can be used to induce memory, opinion, even experience but they must be achievable expressions. We understand complicated concepts but only if we can express them. If we can’t express them, we can’t understand them. Language is necessary at this point in our evolution.
Perhaps someday all communication will transcend language the way emotions like love and fear can. Until then we must use language to both express and comprehend. Questions are the vehicle that will drive you to understanding any definition of terms further.
Sometimes the questions will impose themselves as banalities, "White or brown bread?" or as necessities, "How am I going to survive on this deserted island?" Sometimes you will desire answers and seek them out willfully, "Who am I going to vote for?" or unexpectedly, "Who the hell is in bed with my wife?" The point is that if you’re asking the question because you want to make a decision, form an opinion, set or change a paradigm. It doesn’t matter if you’re asking the question of yourself or someone else, be warned that you might get answers you don’t like. The knowledge you can glean from self-examinations can also be less than fruitful. It could even be that you are ill-prepared to deal with the things that you come to learn. This is no reason to fear change. In fact, as we’ll discuss later, you should seek it. Exercise your ability to change your mind because it’s healthy. Examine your paradigms because it’s beneficial to know thyself. Be aware of the mind-set of others as well, for as assuredly as there are people who seek change there are those who despise it, fear it and may well destroy its chances of success. Quentin Tarantino has a great line in the film "Four Rooms,"6 his character claims his wise, old grand-pappy used to say it, "The more apt you are to make declarative statements, the more likely you are to look foolish in retrospect." Or as I sometimes remind my sons, "If you don’t answer anything you can’t be wrong." Sometimes you have to choose your moments.
Paradigm resistance is as rampant as paradigm ignorance. Somewhere between paradigm resistance and utilization is paradigm tolerance. This is when you know the paradigm is unhealthy, (unproductive, illogical, destructive, etc.) yet you do nothing to correct it, either in yourself or others. lazy cow!When I learned that my understanding of ancient Egyptian monuments could be, at the least, partially incorrect I went through a variety of emotive thoughts. (Never forget, we are now ultimately open minded, because for us the facts are still in dispute we remain the resigned undecided.) At first I was In awe. Wow, I thought, that changes everything! (At the time, in my naivete, I just believed it.) I didn’t realize it but I had shifted several paradigms at once. Looking back on it now, it seems to me that I could physically feel the change in my mind, perhaps a slight dizziness. The first paradigm shift that I could discern was the obvious one, “there were civilized people on this planet way before I previously knew.” As I stated, at the time, I just accepted these theories of ten thousand B.C. to be true. (By the way, it’s likely that the theories are true. If ever I must decide I will favour agreeing with them.) Obviously, this idea of “man” being “civilized” earlier sent a fresh jolt to a lot of my paradigms. Surely it must have touched my ideas about religion, archeology, pre-history, etc.
Then there was the second shift, “If they were wrong about the ages of these monuments, what else are they wrong about?” Which of course enters into my trust paradigms and I begin to wonder about my teachers and other groups that up until that moment had been authorities. Then a third shift, “That makes it even less likely for the resources or technology to exist for the construction of these monuments? Or does it?” This one is more the conceptualization of Paradigm without knowing what it was called because it put the onus on me to doubt myself. I had discovered that “facts” could be accepted as such for years, by basically, everyone and then be smashed in one hour long t.v. show. I now knew that I could be duped right along with everyone else. So, how can I say that anything is a fact, anything is known, anything is possible?
Then the final, and most fun shift for a young man, "These guys are just dorks from four different disciplines that looked at something with "new eyes," drew some conclusions, went hunting for questions that led to those conclusions, and found them. They could have been anybody. They could have been me. It did dawn on me at the time that is was the alternative perception of these men that made the difference. The people that would normally be looking at these sort of questions were finished looking at them a long time ago. Thus, having blinders on is proof that subjects in question should be answered with interdisciplinary considerations. I hadn’t yet heard of "thinking outside the box" but now it had been demonstrated and experienced. It’s important to both consider and employ alternative perception as it forces paradigm shift. Human history is full of sufferances due to ignoring the worth of keeping an open mind. Alternative perceptions sometimes are scary or embarrassing, depending on how far outside your paradigms you have to stretch and if you are the one asking someone to do the stretching, it can be equally trying. But try you must. Or better yet, as Yoda tells Luke in "the Empire Strikes Back," "Do not try. Do! Or do not do. There is no try."
I’m not asking you to convince people that aliens built the pyramids, I’m suggesting that there are people on this planet that would never listen to a word you said if you tried to and that’s illogical. Did IBM know there was going to be a computer revolution and home computers would become as common as toasters? Yes. They knew there a tiny movement afoot that claimed it was coming. Did they believe it was a threat or even possible? No. Apple did, in fact, they set out to make it happen and succeeded. (The beauty of this example is that nobody needed a home computer, Apple created the need by making it useful.) Seiko Japan did the same thing by buying the quartz watch movement that the Swiss didn’t see the value of. (Look at your watch, does it say "quartz?") Bill Gates bought the DOS operating software that makes "Windows" possible for the price of a decent used car from a man who couldn’t envision its utility. The list goes on and on but those are instances that had a positive outcome for the people that saw the value of the paradigm shift. The people who couldn’t see the value in these new ideas, yet had the time to think about the paradigm, suffer from Contemplative Paradigm Paralysis, and lost out. (Swiss watch companies have since embraced the quartz movement, but Japan still dominates the timepiece industry. Bill Gates is still in the top ten richest men in the world, almost nobody has heard of the man who invented the DOS operating system.) But what of the dangers of ignoring "crazy new ideas" in everyday life. Not all of us are meant to be on the cusp of innovation. Let’s examine some more mundane degrees of paradigm paralysis.
In Joel Barker’s "The New Business of Paradigms"8 he relays the following story. One beautiful sunny afternoon, a young man is out for a leisurely drive in his beloved sports car. He is enjoying himself as he speeds along a curvy country road. Suddenly, at the last second in a blind corner, he sees another car coming at him in his lane. He swerves slightly as does the woman who is in his lane. They avoid each other without incident but as the cars pass each other, the woman yells out the window at him, "Pig!" In that instant the young man becomes angry. This woman was in his lane, endangering both of their lives yet she has the audacity to call him a Pig! He has enough time to come up with "Cow!" which he shouts at her before she is out of earshot. He feels a little better because he was able to zing her back then runs directly into the pig that is on the road. He kills the pig, ruins his car and hopefully learns the lesson of his Autonomic Paradigm Paralysis. (Although probably not, it is much more likely that he understands that it was a warning, yet thinks something to the effect of, "How the hell was I supposed to know it was a warning?") This is the most rampant type of paradigm paralysis. Whereas the aforementioned "contemplative paradigm paralysis" does not present itself as readily or as frequently. They are both equally dangerous, the difference being that you are much more able and likely to do something about Contemplative Paradigm Paralysis because you have the time to. If you have the ability to think about a new paradigm yet still reject it, you have made that decision and have no one to blame for it but yourself. If, however, you have to make an instant decision there is no contemplation and you are less in control. You are reacting from a place that you may or may not have established.
The young man driving made a conclusion that led to an unfortunate event. He misunderstood the intent of the woman coming the other way, most likely out of the common, trance-like paradigm we often experience with repeated activity. In other words, he was on auto-pilot and was used to drivers reacting negatively rather than positively. The lack of assessment and the creation of his anger stem from the same place, habit. If the young man had time to examine the situation, perhaps he would have realized that it doesn’t really make sense for the woman to be in his lane, yet angry at him. It is a much more likely situation that the scenario that did play out, would. Because the young man has had plenty of experience with being and observing frustrated, angry drivers, his reaction emanates from this ‘driving’ paradigm.
All reactions (that are not ‘fight or flight’ autonomic) stem from Paradigm. You cannot change your reactions without changing your paradigms. For example, a different young man, may have seen the woman coming toward him and respond with curiosity rather than anger, "Why is she in my lane?" This thought implies there is a reason for the fact, it might even be something he wants to know. Perhaps this young man would apply the brakes and even upon hearing the word, "Pig!" consider it a warning that there is a pig on the road. "That certainly would explain why she was in my lane." This young man’s car would be fine and the pig would live another day. I’d also be willing to bet that this young man would be a lot happier, healthier and more productive in life than the first young man. I’d further wager that the first, typically reactionary young man outnumbers the other one hundred to one. Let’s recap...
Paradigms are sets of rules that you use to think. Each paradigm is a network of associations on any given topic with which you have some kind of understanding. Paradigms can be experientially created or be ‘taught’ by outside sources. They are built of experience, memory and opinion but can most easily be manipulated with language. The examination and evaluation of paradigm is the most powerful tool for understanding and the most commonly used question to do so is "Why?" A paradigm shift occurs when you change your way of thinking about any given topic. This occurs most often when you either don’t have an answer to the "Why?" or when your answer is deemed more illogical than the new paradigm. The ‘why’s’ must be followed to the core of their existence. Remember we are not psychologists or cosmologists! We can no less decide the worth of someone’s mental state than we can truly appreciate the cause of creation. We are not here to answer any impossible questions. We can just accept the unknowns as unknowable at present. We are here to understand ourselves. To understand the "why" of you, the why of the young man driving on the country road, etc.
We have learned that paradigm can be ignored, rejected, absorbed, accepted, tarnished either with or without knowing it’s happening (Autonomic vs. Contemplative.) We can keep our paradigms flexible, even undecided or we can nail them down and stick to it, again with or without awareness. Assignee’s Prerogative, (hereby referred to as A.P.) is the understanding and use of paradigm contemplation. We can accept that there are going to be times when we are reactionary but the number and severity of these reactions can be reduced with practice. There are also going to be instances where you can find no answer to the question, "What is the worth of this paradigm?" It’s an acceptance of logic as a personal decision of what it might mean, per paradigm. If that means that we have to make a leap of faith to be comfortable, so be it. I think we should be allowed that privilege as there are many deep running unknowns and we’ve been so wrong, so often before. After all, we have only our perceptions and our paradigms to go on, and there seems to be little to no actual logic being demonstrated by our commitment to them.
There are also paradigm that are going to be harder to shake regardless of our desire to. For eg: To this day I harbor a distaste for ‘loud’ people. I am aware of the causation, some of the greatest pains I have felt in my life have been associated with ‘loud’ personalities. Is it logical? Of course not! I’m sure there’s some really groovy loud people out there. But I’m aware of my bias and I can make a concentrated effort to be equally open to loud people. I can realize that these loud people who have hurt me have reasons for being the way they are. It doesn’t make it right or wrong, but understanding paradigms means I pretty much have to forgive them. They’re just like everybody else, they live the life they’ve created. They may or may not be aware of that fact.
Paradigm Pliancy, Utilization with a lack of Assignation except when necessary is good, healthy, valid. Paradigm Paralysis, Ignorance and unquestioning Assignation is dangerous, illogical, counterproductive. It is a far better thing to be able to recognize, assimilate and unbiasedly decide for yourself on any given subject than it is to miss, ignore or decide from a place of ignorance, possibly someone else’s. Don’t fear Alternate Perception, examine it. Notice that I didn’t say Paradigm Rejection or Resistance were either good or bad. That is because it is often just as useful you reject or resist new paradigms contemplatively as you accept them. Take the case of zeppelin travel as an example of a paradigm that proved better to reject, or the medieval idea that bleeding could expunge illness.
Nevertheless, new paradigms will always come from the fringe and so to look out to that fringe is to see the future. It takes only a little imagination to see it clearly and if you use a lot of imagination it’s possible to create it. Life in the fringe is a place where you have nothing to lose, where brave meets crazy and crazy comes true.
It’s the only place to be...